by Philip-Todd Franklin
The man stood in the doorway, listening to the sounds of exchanging gunfire as he thought, I didn’t sign up to get abandoned on a strange world controlled by people who were defeated long ago back home.
As the sounds of gunfire drew closer to the empty, old, battle-scarred townhouse, the man withdrew deeper inside; he was trapped between two forces, not knowing if either or both would just shoot him on sight. This man was known as Hi-Jack. He had formerly been known by other names, such as the Jack of Clubs and the Jack of Spades, when he was a member of the Royal Flush Gang.
Years ago, this super-villain from the parallel world of Earth-One had been a member of a small neighborhood gang of teenagers led by a young bully named Amos “Pudge” Fortune. The other members of the gang were Walt King, Queenie Kerry, Tom Dillon, and Jack Wellington. Although Jack had come from a decent though poor family, the influence of the gang had led him into a life of petty crime. As adults, the ambitious Fortune brought together his old cronies as the Royal Flush Gang, and they became a super-villain team that fought the Justice League of America and others over the next few years. (*) The lineup changed a few times, and Jack eventually struck off on his own as Hi-Jack, a short-lived member of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Card Crimes of the Justice League,” Justice League of America #43 (March, 1966) and “No Man Shall I Call Master,” Secret Society of Super-Villains #2 (August, 1976).]
After the original Gang had been retired for a while, Hector Hammond formed a new Royal Flush Gang, which included a new Jack of Spades, and this new Gang came even closer to defeating the Justice League than the originals had. (*) Then the Crisis on Infinite Earths struck, and Lex Luthor and Brainiac came up with a plan to take over three Earths: Earth-Four, Earth-S, and Earth-X. The Royal Flush Gang was recruited to join this army of super-villains, but since the new Jack of Spades had been injured in a prison fight, he was unable to join them. So Hi-Jack was offered freedom in exchange for joining the new Royal Flush Gang; although he didn’t known any of the members, the offer was too good to pass up, and he joined the group of super-villains who began to ransack Earth-X.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Shuffle and Deal… with Death,” Justice League of America #203 (June, 1982).]
Unlike Earth-One with its many super-hero teams, Earth-X had only the Freedom Fighters to protect it, and that small team of super-heroes was easily defeated by a handful of villains under the leadership of Silver Ghost and the Joker before the Royal Flush Gang had even begun to fight. So the Gang joined the efforts to secure Earth-X’s Los Angeles, even as the Floronic Man, Hyathis, and Poison Ivy began to cause rapid plant growth all across the world from New York City. Soon enough, the Outsiders of Earth-One and the Justice Society of America and Infinity Inc. of Earth-Two arrived, and the villains found themselves in a real battle. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War.]
What happened next was difficult for Hi-Jack to remember. He and the Royal Flush Gang were in the middle of fighting a few members of Infinity Inc. when he blacked out. When he came to, he found himself in the midst of a very different battle in Los Angeles. Even stranger, over a year had passed since he and the other villains had arrived on Earth-X, judging by the date on a newspaper he found. He didn’t know what had happened, or what was behind it, but he had very little time to adjust to his new situation — he was in the middle of a warzone in San Bernardino, not far from Los Angeles.
This Earth-One exile was now dressed in casual civilian clothing he’d taken from a bombed-out Chinese laundromat. He had smartly ditched his Hi-Jack outfit, deciding that it would make him too much of a target. Of all the items from his costume, he’d only kept the gloves and boots, as well as his club-shaped mace, knowing how handy those could be. He looked drastically different than when he first arrived. Having removed his mask and white wig, he revealed a head of short red hair and a face with a half-day’s growth of beard. In contrast to his garish costume, he now wore a pair of very faded blue jeans with a black T-shirt and boots.
Crouching behind the largest piece of furniture, a faded couch, Hi-Jack could hear the old door give way to heavy pounding boots and a voice that yelled, “Don’t forget to check each room — we can’t have them flanking behind us!”
This was followed by two voices that replied, “Yes, sir!”
Hunkered down behind the couch, Hi-Jack grabbed his mace and prepared to defend himself as the sound of footsteps came even closer to his position. Slowly, the footsteps continued to walk until they seemed to stop right before the couch. Hi-Jack quickly rose up and began to swing the mace as a gun went off in his direction.
For the incognito super-villain, it seemed as if time itself decided to slow down at that moment, to the point that he could watch the bullet travel in his direction, even though he could not move from his position in time. After a sharp sting upon his left temple as the bullet grazed him there, his world slowly begin to go black. The mace slowly slipped from his fingers as his eyes rolled up in their sockets, and he collapsed to the floor.
The young private who had fired the bullet stood there with wide, shock-filled eyes as the sound of more booted feet could be heard running toward the townhouse.
Hi-Jack’s last waking sounds before he completely passed out were of the young private saying in a shocked voice, “Senator Wellington?!” This was followed by a shout. “Need a medic!” And Hi-Jack heard no more.
Los Angeles had been liberated from Imperial Japanese troops several weeks ago under the leadership of General Timmy Frink, but the Occupation forces were still garrisoned in strongholds throughout California. (*) The U.S. Army had been sent in to secure the city, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. It was slow going, but the soldiers were taking no chances.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Quicksilver: The Fall of Los Angeles.]
Just three blocks down the road from the San Bernardino townhouse where Hi-Jack had been discovered, a body was found by another squad of American soldiers. The corpse was dressed in what looked like a cheap type of commando uniform without identifying patches.
“Sir, I think I’ve found something important in the alleyway here,” said a very young private.
A middle-aged sergeant walked up to the private and looked down at the body, saying, “What do we have here, Private?”
The young private turned and said, “I don’t know, sir. There’s no identifying markings, and the body seems almost burnt beyond recognition.”
The sergeant looked at the private for a moment and then down at the body. “Well, son, since it’s not a Jap body, you know what to do with it.” And he walked away, calling a second pair of young soldiers to join the private.
As the sergeant left, the private said, “Yes, sir. I’ll bag and tag it for later identification if possible.” He began the process of tagging anything important on the body as the sounds of gunfire could be continually heard blocks away from their position, steadily heading away. The young private thought to himself, Wonder who this poor guy was and what could have brought him into this crazy area at a time like this. Looks like he died recently.
The Occupation was slowly being pressed from California, city by city. Pockets of heavy resistance and quickly fabricated strongholds had been hastily constructed in many of the coastal cities. But it was in the city of San Francisco that the greatest Occupation force was garrisoned; anyone who had seen any recon files for the city knew that it would be one of the toughest battles for the retaking of California.
But what even military intelligence did not know was that, with the last batch of rerouted Japanese forces to enter the city in personnel carriers, one of those carriers held special cargo. That carrier did not contain troops but first-class hostages captured during the first wave of the invasion one year ago in August, 1985. (*) All in all, the total number of hostages, which included California Governor Steve Gramm and several members of his cabinet, was forty. This select group of prisoners included a young woman and her two small children, a young girl of nine and a boy of twelve, who were both crying. The woman wore a light green dress that came just below her knees, and she had long blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. The little girl was dressed the same as her mother, while the boy wore a black track suit; his hair was a dusty brown, but he also had the same sparkling blue eyes of his mother.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Blackhawk: The Cry of the Hawk.]
The little girl who had been crying was sitting in her mother’s lap as they rode within the personnel carrier, and the boy sat beside them. He looked up at his mother while his little sister fell asleep from exhaustion. “Mom, what are we going to do?” he asked. “Will we be OK, or will we end up like Dad?” His father, the lieutenant governor, had been killed during the initial invasion while trying to defend their home.
His mother looked at her son for a moment, trying to decide if she should tell him a comforting lie or be frank about the truth of their situation. Deciding on the latter, she looked at him and said, “Tony, I honestly don’t know. I was able to contact your Uncle Jack that one time before they found your father’s personal radio. If I know my brother, he will either have someone come for us, or he will come for us himself.” She smiled at him for a moment before adding, “But I don’t want to give you any false hope, son, neither you or your sister. As it stands, our survival will depend on what they try to do with us and the other hostages.” They sat quietly together the rest of the ride.
Once in San Francisco, most of the personnel carriers split off and drove toward the military-fortified strongholds in the area, while two at the end arrived at a heavily guarded dockfront warehouse at Fisherman’s Wharf that had been quickly converted into the headquarters of the local Occupation forces. Once the vehicles both came to a stop and were surrounded, a man in the full gear of an Imperial Japanese captain walked from the warehouse office and headed toward the second carrier. He stopped just short as a soldier exited and stood at attention.
This young soldier was nisei, meaning his mother had been born in Japan, but he had been born and raised in the United States, only recently traveling to his motherland to attend school. He was half-Japanese, as his father was an American of Scottish background, and because of this he was treated with less respect as a full-blood Japanese. It was thanks to his father that he had the surname Tain, which signified his ancestors came from a certain town in the Highlands of Scotland. Like several other nisei who had been raised or schooled in North America, Hiroshi Tain had been recruited to assist with the invasion and the Occupation.
After what seemed like an hour to the young soldier, Captain Juno Suto said to him in Japanese, “You will take the prisoners to their cells and then join me in the office to report.”
“Yes, sir. I will do as you have said,” Private Tain replied in his American-accented Japanese, causing Suto to sneer in disgust. Saluting the captain, the soldier began to bark out orders to those standing around the vehicle, and those within were slowly removed and taken to a converted storage room in the warehouse.
For a brief moment as he watched the transfer, Tain thought to himself, What is wrong with me? Why does this feel so completely wrong? A single tear fell from the corner of his right eye and ran down his cheek, but he quickly brushed it away before anyone could see his disgrace.
Time passed, and Hi-Jack once again regained consciousness, finding himself lying back upon a large bed, wearing nothing but a pair of silk pajamas. How did I get here, wherever this is? he thought, looking around at the extravagantly furnished bedroom. Whoever lives here must have it made.
Scanning the room from the bed, he quickly spotted an old writing desk up against one wall. “Hell, that desk alone must cost a small fortune,” he muttered to himself. Slowly feeling his head, he noticed the bandages that were still wrapped there. Damn! That’s the first time I’ve ever been shot in the head before.
He slowly rose from the bed as he noticed a small picture sitting upon the nightstand. He felt nothing but shock as he saw faces looking back from the picture that should not — could not — have been there. There stood what looked like his father and mother, along with himself, which was unexpected. But it was the presence of a young girl in the photo who he did not recognize, but who bore a close resemblance to his family, that transfixed him. Under his breath he muttered, “Just what the hell is going on here?”
Hi-Jack was slowly replacing the picture on the nightstand when there came three loud knocks from the bedroom door a moment before the door opened to admit two gentlemen. “Senator — Jack — what are you doing already out of bed?” said an elderly man with short, thinning gray hair, who wore a blue suit and a long white coat and carried a small black bag. “Not that I’m not glad to see you awake, my boy, but back to bed till I tell you to get up. Doctor’s orders.”
Looking a little lost for a moment, Hi-Jack slipped back into bed without saying a word, though he wasn’t exactly sure why.
The other man, who had dark black hair and wore a butler’s uniform, looked at Hi-Jack and said, “So sorry, sir. I told Dr. Williams to at least let me check and see if you were up before he came knocking.” At that moment the doorbell rang, and the butler shook his head and said, “Excuse me, sir. I shall see to the door.” He exited the room.
While the butler was speaking, Dr. Williams had been checking Hi-Jack’s vitals. After what felt like nearly an hour to the super-villain, the doctor spoke once again. “Jack, you are whole enough that you may get up, as long as you don’t strain your body too much.”
Hi-Jack just lay there looking at the doctor for a moment before speaking. “Doctor… Williams, how long have I been out–?”
Before he could continue, the doctor interrupted him. “Jack, you must have shaken your brain when you fell, if you’re asking me that question, given how long I’ve known you and your sister.” The reaction upon Hi-Jack’s face as the doctor said the word sister was nearly priceless as the doctor continued to speak. “You’ve always just called me Tom since you first became a senator. Tell me what’s wrong, my boy.”
At the front of the building stood a massive front door partly made of stone; it had been added to the house only months before the brief appearance of the red skies last summer that heralded the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the war with the Axis that followed quickly on its heels. Never did find out why the senator had this door built to replace the old oak door, but it sure did help with feeling secure during the Japanese invasion, thought the butler as he pulled upon the handle.
He opened the door to reveal a tall man dressed in the full garb of a one-star general, who was flanked by two young soldiers as a squad of six others was securing the area around the house. The butler looked and said, “Ah, yes, General King, if you and your guards will please wait in that room over there…” He pointed to a room with a few comfortable-looking chairs. “…I shall announce you to the senator.” Closing the door, he turned and left, heading quickly toward the bedroom.
“So, Tom, that’s all I can tell you, if it makes any sense,” Hi-Jack was saying when the door quietly opened, and the butler reentered the room.
Dr. Tom Williams was shaking his head slowly as he replied, “It’s not too hard to believe that the fall gave you partial amnesia, my boy. Happens a lot if you hit your head hard enough.”
At that moment, the butler interrupted, “Sir, General Walter King is here to speak with you. I took the liberty to send him to the parlor, and I shall fetch some drinks for all.”
“Thank you, Jenkins,” Hi-Jack said with a nod; a few moments earlier, Dr. Williams had let it slip that the butler’s name was Victor Jenkins. “Please tell him I’ll be there shortly.” As Jenkins walked from the room, Hi-Jack thought to himself, Walter King, huh? Could there be one here, too? And what is this world’s version like?